Wednesday, February 25, 2009

MARCH 01 – APRIL 12, 2009

Pimps Up
Rain or shine, it’s my habit, about five of an evening, to go for a stroll in the Palais-Royal. It’s me you see there, invariably alone, sitting on the d’Argenson bench, musing. I converse with myself about politics, love, taste, or philosophy. I give my mind license to wander wherever it fancies. I leave it completely free to pursue the first wise or foolish idea that it encounters, just as, on the Allée de Foy, you see our young rakes pursuing a flighty, smiling, sharp-eyed, snub-nosed little whore, abandoning this one to follow that one, trying them all but not settling on any. In my case, my thoughts are my whores.
--Denis Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew, 1761/1774

By the time Diderot finished Rameau’s Nephew, the Enlightment was conscious enough of itself as a movement to embrace its own caricature. If anyone had earned this right it was Diderot. His imprisonment in 1746 following publication of Letter on the Blind, in which he openly questioned the existence of God, helped unify the circle of French intellectuals known as the philosophes. Their use of empiricism to challenge a Christian worldview defined the so-called Age of Reason. As humanists, the philosophes’ writings touched on a range of subjects that would eventually evolve into discrete intellectual disciplines ranging from economics to natural history, and from the physical to the social sciences. Their critique of the morals, beliefs and laws regulating social relations was based on an inquiry into the origin of society. There was no shortage of paradigms to overturn as the philosophes were trying to understand the world in human rather than divine terms. Of the topics where social theory and a critique of morality would converge, none could form as volatile and complex a nucleus of discussion as sex.

Regarding sex, however, Enlightenment thought was distinguished neither by its critique of morality nor its consideration of sexual relations as being at the basis of society. As a staple of mores the world over, sex, by default, lends itself to any critique of morality. And the teleological relationship between sex and society has been part of a Western intellectual tradition since Plato’s Symposium. Instead, Enlightenment thought was marked by its use of sex to consider not the origins but the limits of society. Within a Christian framework, humankind was created in God’s image. Sex, however, in confirming humans as animals, spoke to our literally lower rather than higher selves. In an Enlightenment discourse challenging a Christian worldview, pleasures involving a regression to base instincts then became the site of transgression. As a result, sexual sovereignty was cast as the supreme expression of individual freedom. This last line of thought was indelibly inscribed into the trajectory of modernity by none other than the Marquis de Sade.

My laws are my whores. The immediate question raised by this provocative title, namely who pimps the law, belongs less to Diderot, from whom it was derived, and more to, say, Jean Genet. In answer to this question, Paul Chan has graced the entrance to his Renaissance Society exhibition with charcoal portraits of the nine United States Supreme Court Justices. As an artist whose work is informed by his political activism, Chan has never been one to shy away from pointed and scathing satire. The snarky hyperbole of Re: The Operation (2002), a 27-minute video in which Chan uses the genre of the soldier’s letter home to flesh out the psyches of former president George W. Bush’s inner circle, while highly entertaining, is also tragically on the mark in its depiction of an utterly vainglorious administration. In what was surely a surfeit of script-worthy material, Chan’s wit rose to the occasion. By comparison, the drawings of the Justices are a restrained affair. Their stilted quality is not a parody so much as an underscoring of their source in state portraiture. The only feature suggestive of caricature is the eerily recurring, smug, beatific grin that translates into a sense of detachment. Hung in the upper portion of the gallery, well over viewers’ heads, the Justices are literally above it all. But they are not the overseers in the sense of a panopticon. Instead, the Justices have been thrust to a more remote, ethereal, yet expansive realm of authority, making for a notable shift of tone in Chan’s work as his target has changed from the executive to the judicial branch of government.

Whereas the executive branch embodies the government in action, the High Court is the government in its guise as law, which does not avail itself to an accountability of the directness leveled at the presidency. This does not, however, preclude Chan from asking the simple question, who is the law, just as one might ask who is the president. As an answer, Chan, a champion of the literal, offers up these nine charcoal portraits of the Justices. But the larger question for Chan is, what is the law, specifically human law. If the remainder of the exhibition is taken as an answer, then, in a word, it is sex.

The portraits of the Justices find their corollary in fourteen large text-based drawings done after characters from works by Sade. A bowdlerized redux of the language describing the various characters’ sexual exploits and misfortunes, these drawings, although strictly text-based, nonetheless qualify as portraits albeit linguistically. These drawings are also studies for fonts which Chan has produced and made available on his website Each letter and symbol on the keyboard corresponds to a titillating phrase so that once installed, anything typed is rendered nonsensical pornographic drivel. The loss of control over what one types is metaphorically orgasmic. In addition to computer-based fonts, Chan has also had other texts translated into his fonts, as is the case with the episode of Law and Order featured on the plasma screen monitor. Chan translated the dialogue into one of his fonts and then reintroduced it as a running subtitle after removing the audio track.

In forsaking the figurative for the textual, Chan’s interest in sex proves to be something other than the pornographically explicit sense that comes to mind when one thinks of Sade. For Chan, the discourse of sex is where an inner law of human impulses and desire interfaces with an outer law responsible for regulating and/or containing libidinal forces. Marriage. Adultery. Sodomy. Pederasty. Rape. Incest. Sexual harassment. Prostitution. The state’s regulation of sexual relationships is arguably at the heart of the social compact as liberty’s limits are mapped within the most intersubjective of realms. The efficacy of the social compact in maximizing the pursuit of happiness is then mirrored in sexual relations as spelled out by the law, which over and above origin and limit, comprises the very structure of society. More significant than being a form of authority, a society’s laws are its architecture, which in Sade’s case was a cage whose bars he spent the better part of his life rattling. Chan’s juxtaposition of Sade and the Supreme Court Justices constructs an historical trajectory in which the United States is unavoidably to be viewed as the child of the Enlightenment. For better or for worse, Sade’s thought remains with us in perpetuity. Chan, however, is hardly interested in Sade the overly celebrated libertine. Of greater importance is the relationship between sex and the law, in which sex, as a basis of society, is also an issue for which the law achieves a degree of opacity, revealing its role in structuring society at its most fundamental level. For Chan, this is yet another layer of overtly political subject matter he has been steadily plying for the last decade.

Chan belongs to a generation of artists and collectives that are heir to debates about the relationship between aesthetics and politics; debates that emerged in the wake of a neo-autonomous minimalism on the one hand and widespread social unrest of the 1960s on the other. Told from the present vantage point, however, what were once two camps now find themselves partners in an expanded field of cultural production. The question of art’s relationship to affecting social change used to be fraught with a tension confirming the art world as a bubble with a discrete inside and outside. Thanks to the likes of Chan, activism, which once stood firmly outside the bubble, has become indispensable for the manner in which it informs a range of practices such that politics is no longer a quality of the work of art proper, but has instead become a way of looking. Likewise, the reverse is true. Activism may be viewed culturally, making its means and ends the subject of critique usually reserved for art. This two-way dialogue has helped dispense with false categories such as “political art,” and allowed artists to adopt a broader range of methods available to them on an as-needed basis. In this respect, Chan is a poster child for the post-medium era. His output includes activist pamphlets, production of large-scale performances (mounting Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in New Orleans’ lower 9th Ward), a website, drawings, collages, video installations and last but not least, several single-channel videos which in and of themselves display a range of approaches. Chan’s transition to a new body of work has taken place on the still-warm grave of the Bush presidency. Just as there was a need for socially engaged practices before George W. Bush’s presidency, the same applies afterward, even if at a minimum, to facilitate the transition from anger to hope.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Picasso, Images and Language

A dense and busy show on Picasso at Yale University investigates the importance of words — written, painted, printed, spoken — in Picasso’s art.

Check out NYT slideshow here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Many thanks to Brett for finding and sharing this:

The Pressures of the Text
Format: Quicktime .mov
Size: 537mb
Duration: 17 min.
Year: 1983

The Pressures of the Text integrates direct address, invented languages, ideographic subtitles, sign language, and simultaneous translation to investigate the feel and form of sense, the shifting boundaries between meaning and meaninglessness. A parody of art/critspeak, educational instruction, gothic narrative, and pornography, it has been performed as a live work at major media centers and new music festivals in the US and Europe. The piece was written, directed and delivered by Peter Rose; co-directed by Jessie Lewis; with sign language and ideographic symbols by Jessie Lewis; and with English simultran by Fred Curchack. The work was featured in the 1985 Whitney Biennial.


Monday, February 09, 2009

The Arts of Transmission

Critical Inquiry
Volume 31 no. 1
Lawrence Weiner on working with words
A New Yorker born and raised, Lawrence Weiner’s mission in life is to get straight to the point. It’s a quality you cannot miss in his artwork, in which big ideas are communicated using the minimum of words. In this film, Weiner tells us why he’s against Helvetica, and how he came to design his own font. He also shows us around his studio and allows us a sneak preview of projects that are still on the drawing board.His work is included in the exhibition Colour Chart, which comes to Tate Liverpool in May 2009.

Watch the short film (3 mins.) here on Tateshots Issue 19 NYC Special
Lawrence Weiner: I am one of those lucky artists who has been able to remain in exactly the same position as a human being as when I first jumped onto the ice floe. And luckily people have dropped sandwiches and cigarettes on the iceberg along the way, so I can sort of sit there. Where I’d like to be tomorrow is where I am now, doing public installations about things that interest me. I’m doing one in Denmark which takes over this whole city. I’m building the whole piece out of cobblestones. It breaks right into the highway, and on the highway people are offered a choice between paper and stone, and water and fire. Every single child knows what it means. I don’t know if adults know any longer. Fire and water means joining the circus; paper and stone is to make yourself a stable set up in that society. The piece runs through the vestibule of a building into this enormous courtyard, and in this courtyard it says, “When in doubt, play tic-tac-toe and hope for the best.” And all through the town this slogan is reiterated. So what do you do when a society starts to destroy its circles? You play tic-tac-toe and you hope for the best, you don’t just sit there and watch

in Lawrence Weiner by Marjorie Welish
Bomb Magazine Issue 54 Winter 1996, ART
Specific Objects
Donald Judd

Half or more of the best new work in the last few years has been neither painting nor sculpture. Usually it has been related, closely or distantly, to one or the other. The work is diverse, and much in it that is not in painting and sculpture is also diverse. But there are some things that occur nearly in common.

Donald Judd's "Specific Objects" is required reading for the lecture double bill: Epistemological Conceptualism (5th March), comprising:
1. Ronald Jones: Donald Judd ”Specific Objects”
2. Rolf Hughes: Lawrence Weiner ”The Piece Need Not Be Built”:

Read it here.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Word & Image A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry
Word and Image - a rival blog with lots of interesting posts!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Are you experienced?

by Ronald Jones
Published in Frieze Issue 120 Jan-Feb 2009

How designers are adopting the strategies of Conceptual art

In 1981 the art critic Robert Pincus-Witten differentiated for the first time between two kinds of Conceptual art: between what he called ontological Conceptualism and epistemological Conceptualism. Acknowledging the distinction between these two fundamental methodologies alters what one sees in the rear-view mirror, but it also opens up the opportunity to look forward, towards the emergence of a new discipline called ‘experience design’.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Art After Philosophy
by Joseph Kosuth (1969)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

by Marie de Brugerolle


IN A RECENT CONVERSATION, the French dancer and choreographer Jérôme Bel articulated a distinction between the ‘fine arts artist,’or ‘visual artist,’and the dancer or actor: dramaturgy, that is, time-based work. What trace of dance still remains in the museum? The spectator’s body penetrated by the choreographer, Jérôme Bel’s
headphones or the insistent regard of Tino Sehgal’s stripteasers.
Here I would like to discuss what develops, now at the beginning of the 21st century, after the action, from performance props, from today’s objects, and how they are to be considered. What should be done with what’s left over? What is the status of objects after a happening, event, action or performance? Do they take on a new status, and if so, what? How should one present these objects? Like separate, consummate
works? Like documents, fetishes, leftovers, indices? With these questions in mind I’ll address the work of ten artists who are establishing a new set of stakes.

in Flash Art Online
UBS Openings: Saturday Live
Characters, Figures and Signs

Friday 20 Feb - Saturday 21 Feb

Tate Modern and River Thames

This unique two-day event takes the alternately spoken and movement-based form of the choreographic 'lecture-demonstration' as its' starting point, and presents contemporary dance in dialogue with visual art and discussion. Taking place on a boat on the river Thames, in the Turbine Hall and in the Starr Auditorium at Tate Modern, the programme explores a number of ways in which verbal and gestural languages intersect, staging tensions between language and meaning in a deliberately unresolved manner.

This unique cross-disciplinary event features Jérôme Bel, Julien Bismuth, Pablo Bronstein, Bojana Cvejic, Guillaume Désanges, Jean-Pascal Flavien, Martin Hargreaves, Florian Hecker, Jennifer Lacey, Xavier Le Roy, Robert Morris, Tino Sehgal, Marten Spanberg, Catherine Sullivan, and Ian White. Whilst verbal language is typically seen as a system of communication in which direct meaning is created through discrete relationships between signifier and signified, gesture (and, often, dance) is commonly understood as being 'outside' language: functioning at the level of the image and therefore constituting a "pure mediality" (Giorgio Agamben). Through their interventions and experimental presentations, the artists, curators and choreographers in the programme address notions of 'saying' and 'doing' as distinct forms of signification, challenging the idea that the former is descriptive, the latter, effective. The resulting 'choreographies' propose new cultural forms and imagine ne w modes of communication and participation.

A full programme of events across the Friday and Saturday includes:

Friday 20 February

19.30 – 21.30 Starr Auditorium, Tate Modern, tickets £5, booking recommended

- Talk by artist Bojana Cvejic
- Film screening: artists Robert Morris, 21.3 and Catherine Sullivan, The Chirologic Remedy (extract)
- Artist Tino Sehgal in conversation with Tate Curator Catherine Wood

22.00 – 23.00, Turbine Hall Bridge, Tate Modern
Booking recommended
Performance by celebrated dance choreographer Xavier le Roy, Product of Circumstances.
Over two days Xavier Le Roy, molecular biologist turned choreographer and dancer will conduct 'Product of Circumstance' a carefully devised lecture-performance which will explore the significance of gesture and language at play in the act of creating performance art.

Saturday 21 February
Free daytime events

11.00, 12.00, 14.00 and 15.00 East Room, Tate Modern
Jennifer Lacey/Florian Hecker, Robin Hood: The Tour
Workshop style event, for details and to book a place email

15.00, 16.00 and 17.00 Bankside Pier, River Thames
Julien Bismuth and Jean Pascal Flavien, Plouf!
Semaphore flag signalling, reading out loud to each other, and signing between 2 boats on the River Thames!

11.30 – 12.30 Starr Auditorium, Tate Modern
Film screening: dance choreographer Jérôme Bel's Véronique Doisneau and Pablo Bronstein's Plaza Minuet

14.30 – 16.00 Starr Auditorium, Tate Modern
Artist Guillaume Désanges, Signs and Wonders

16.15 – 17.00 Starr Auditorium, Tate Modern
Artist Ian White, Black Flags

19.30 Starr Auditorium, Tate Modern
Artist Pablo Bronstein's film, Intermezzo

20.00 – 21.30 Starr Auditorium, Tate Modern
Round table panel discussion chaired by Ian White including artists Bojana Cvejic, Martin Hargreaves, Jennifer Lacey and Tate Modern Curator Catherine Wood, discussing the relationship between visual art performance and contemporary dance choreography.

22.00 – 23.00 Turbine Hall Bridge, Tate Modern
Booking recommended
Performance by celebrated dance choreographer Xavier le Roy, Product of Circumstances.

For tickets for all events visit, or telephone +44 (0) 20 7887 8888, or in person at the Tate booking office

This event is part of UBS Openings: Saturday Live, a series of bi-monthly performance events celebrating contemporary cultural practice at Tate Modern.

Opening up Art
Tate Modern Collection with UBS

UBS Openings: Saturday Live Characters, Figures and Signs is part of Paris Calling, a Franco-British season of performing arts

UBS Openings: Saturday Live Characters, Figures and Signs is curated by Catherine Wood, Curator, contemporary art and performance, and Vanessa Desclaux, Assistant Curator